Okay, the big winners at the Oscars last night were Sean Penn, Kate Winslet, and "Slumdog Millionaire."

NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: The indie film set in India swept this year's top awards.

(Soundbite of TV Special, "81st Annual Academy Awards")

Mr. STEVEN SPIELBERG (Director): And the Oscar goes to "Slumdog Millionaire."

DEL BARCO: "Slumdog Millionaire" had been a favorite going into the Oscars -the story of a boy from the slums of Mumbai who wants to be a millionaire to win over his true love. On the stage, many of the previously unknown cast crowded around producer Christian Colson when they won for best picture.

Mr. CHRISTIAN COLSON (Producer, "Slumdog Millionaire"): Together, we've been on an extraordinary journey. When we started out, we had no stars. We had no power or muscle. We didn't have enough money, really, to do what we wanted to do.

DEL BARCO: The journey from the slums past Bollywood to Hollywood was an exciting one for the actors who played the film's main characters. On the red carpet, the youngest of them told NPR they felt as though they had just won a game show, just like in the movie.

Unidentified Child: (unintelligible) Oscars. (unintelligible)

DEL BARCO: British director Danny Boyle bounced on stage as happy as Tigger when he got his Oscar. He told reporters "Slumdog Millionaire" was, at its heart, a love story.

Mr. DANNY BOYLE (Director, "Slumdog Millionaire"): It's much deeper and more profound, more recognizable and more lovable, more timeless than a game show. You know? And I love that about it, you know? And it's a chance to get yourself lost in romance. And listen, we all want to get ourselves lost in romance if we get a chance, you know?

DEL BARCO: "Slumdog Millionaire" also won for this year's best adapted screenplay, film editing and sound mixing of the cacophonous sounds of India.

(Soundbite of song, "Jai Ho")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Jai ho. Jai ho.

DEL BARCO: The lively soundtrack to "Slumdog Millionaire" also provided this year's original score and song.

(Soundbite of song, "Jai Ho")

Mr. A.R. RAHMAN (Singer, Songwriter, Composer): (Singing in foreign language)

DEL BARCO: The song "Jai Ho" was performed with drummers and colorfully dressed dancers who brought an excitement to the stage. Oscar's organizers tried to jazz up the ceremony and pump up its ratings this year. They amped up the star power using past Oscar winners, from Sophia Loren to Robert De Niro as presenters. Actor Hugh Jackman emceed the event, cracking jokes about the recession.

Mr. HUGH JACKMAN (Actor; Emcee, "81st Annual Academy Awards"): And due to cutbacks, the Academy said they didn't have enough money for an opening number. Now, you know what? I'm going to do one anyway.

(Soundbite of applause)

DEL BARCO: Jackman hammed and hooked it up, singing his heart out.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JACKMAN: (Singing) These are the Oscars, and this is my dream. I am a Slumdog, I am a wrestler, I'll rent "The Reader," I'm Wolverine.

(Soundbite of applause)

DEL BARCO: Some of the winners were funny, too. The star of the winning documentary "Man on Wire," Philippe Petit, performed a disappearing coin trick and balanced an Oscar statue on his chin. But one of the more stirring moments of the night belonged to the late Heath Ledger for his performance as Joker, the bad guy who haunts Gotham City and Batman in "The Dark Night." Ledger's father, mother and sister accepted his highly anticipated best supporting actor award, saying the Oscar statue would be given to his daughter.

Ms. SALLY BELL (Mother of Heath Ledger): Tonight we are choosing to celebrate and be happy for what he has achieved. Heath, we both knew what you had created in the Joker was extraordinarily special and had even talked about being here on this very day. We really wish you were, but we proudly accept this award on behalf of your beautiful Matilda.

DEL BARCO: Penelope Cruz became Spain's first best supporting actress at the Oscars, thanking everyone in Spanish. And a breathless Kate Winslet said she'd also realized a dream when she picked up her award for this year's best actress.

Ms. KATE WINSLET (Actress): I'd be lying if I haven't made a version of this speech before. I think I was probably eight years old and staring into the bathroom mirror. And this would have been a shampoo bottle. Well, it's not a shampoo bottle now.

(Soundbite of applause)

DEL BARCO: Kate Winslet earned accolades for her performances as a Nazi prison guard in "The Reader." The Best Actor Oscar went to Sean Penn, who took on the role of gay activist and San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, who was gunned down. Penn smiled uncharacteristically as he thanked the Academy.

Mr. SEAN PENN (Actor): You commie, homo-loving, sons of guns.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEL BARCO: Backstage, Penn said on his way to the Oscars, he passed by people holding up signs against homosexuality. He told reporters the protesters were cowards.

Mr. PENN: Tell them to turn in their hate card and find their better selves.

DEL BARCO: Sean Penn called on the country and President Obama to recognize gay marriage. And Dustin Lance Black, who wrote the film's best original screenplay, said if Harvey Milk were still alive, he would want too tell gay and lesbian kids they are beautiful creatures of value who should have civil rights. Backstage, he continued.

Mr. DUSTIN LANCE BLACK (Writer, "Milk"): You know, Harvey gave me his story and - Harvey gave me his story, and it saved my life. And I just thought it's time to pass it on. So I just - the only thing I really knew I wanted to say was to tell those kids out there that they're going to be all right.

DEL BARCO: But last night, really belonged to "Slumdog Millionaire." A.R. Rahman dedicated his two awards for the film's music to India.

Mr. RAHMAN: And all the people from Mumbai, and the essence of the film, which is about optimism and the power of hope in their lives. And all my life, I've had a choice of hate and love. I chose love, and I'm here. God bless.

(Soundbite of song, "Jai Ho")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Jai ho. Jai ho.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News, Hollywood.

(Soundbite of song, "Jai Ho")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Jai ho.

INSKEEP: Our Oscar coverage continues online this morning. NPR's Bob Mondello will have a live chat at 10:00 Eastern. That's 7:00 for those of you who've been up all night in Los Angeles. To ask questions or offer your observations about the Academy Awards, just go to It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee's back with us tomorrow. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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